SUrVival Guide

survival guide

All across the nation, SUV Sally's and Sam's are cussing at the pumps. They're watching the readout with mounting horror: $80, $100, $120+ per fill up. The automotive source of this pain of portly plenitude is has become the pink elephant of the American lifestyle. And it's true: SUVs suck. Not just gas. Depreciation, insurance and street cred. And so, the "Livin' Large" folks of the Oil War Era are giving up their SUVs en masse. Which brings us to a simple question. Should you?

The first thing you should consider is whether anyone wants your SUV. Really. That's not a misprint. The purveyors of maximum mass, maximum profit vehicles have been overproducing these beasts for nearly a decade. GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyondissan, Audi, Porsche, Saab and even granola-happy Subaru joined the fray of seemingly endless profit and demand. And now we have the Mother of All Gluts. On EBay, you'll find a 2006, 23k-mile Ford Explorer Limited ($33k new, at least in theory). The owner's asking $23k. Good luck with that; there isn't a single bid on the vehicle. Not one.

We hear reports that some dealers won't take your SUV in trade. Period. Of course, everything sells at a price. So take four good pictures of your vehicle. Write a glorious soliloquy of its qualities. Price it according to the completed items section on EBay. Put ads on Craigslist and Autotrader. Once you get two serious inquiries on your vehicle that don't involve low-balling, you'll see how bad things really are. And they are very bad indeed. And getting worse.

OK, so, you sell X. You buy Y. The cost to trade is pretty easy to determine (if hard to stomach). The hard part: take into account all the other costs that go into the equation. Depreciation (again), insurance, maintenance, even the ungainly pitfall that is financing are part of the wallet-draining process. These "hidden costs" determine the real cost of escaping your Escape.

A buyer of a Mercedes 320 CDI may love to brag about their outstanding fuel economy– until they start paying for the outstandingly expensive blue urea fluid that can only be had at the dealer. Likewise, a friend of mine absolutely adored his Jetta Diesel– until the dealer billed him over $1300 for 'regular maintenance.' One call to a dealer (or independent shop), a quick visit to an enthusiast's site can add an awful lot of wisdom to your final decision.

When it comes to car buying, knowledge is more important than imagination or instinct.

Along the same lines, you have to be honest with yourself, and God forbid, your spouse. Would either of you really feel comfortable making a leap from Canyonero to Cobalt? Safety, interior quality, and dare I say it, the pleasures of driving these money-suckers should be given weighty consideration over the course of weeks.

In my experiences, folks who drive Suburbans rarely fit in Fits. But they can be more than fine in a Camry hybrid or Malibu. By the same token, drivers who own and enjoy a compact SUV may be perfectly happy in a compact car. My wife went from Volvo wagons and minivans into a Honda Fit without any regrets. However the Scion xB and xD were rolling Edsels in her eyes. We all have our likes and dislikes. Be true to them.

Finally don't be sold on being sold; $2.99 gas, free maintenance programs and lifetime warranties may be a dream come true. But the car behind the fine print 'bling' may be a rolling shit can. When you drive away from the lot, the car will determine the quality of your "ownership experience." If you decide to buy used, it will be the prior owner. And if you keep what you have, it will be your own driving style and maintenance regimen that will likely have the most impact on your satisfaction.

It's true. In these days of $4 gas, many of us have been able to achieve fuel economy figures which exceed the EPA ratings by anywhere from 20 to 30 percent, just by changing the way we drive. Learn to coast. Keep the rpm's low. Pay attention to the traffic. Turn that cell phone off and make driving a 'mileage' game. Hypermiling– within reason– can put dollars back in your pocket and add years to your SUVs life.

In an SUV buyer's market, it's best not to sell an SUV. So how long before the market recovers? At best, two years. At worst, never. If it galls you that you're now an SUV owner for life, don't panic. Drive less. Drive more sensibly. And relax. It still beats walking.

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  • Sanman111 Sanman111 on Jul 29, 2008

    Landcrusher, I have no problem with anyone driving an SUV. What I have a problem with is people buying that SUV for no reason and then complaining to me about how much they have to fill up and how upside down they are now that they are trying to sell it. If they had been fiscally responsible in the first place, or had enough discretionary income to actually afford it, then they would not have this problem. Frankly, I don't care if they're fiscally responsible or not. I just want them to sit down and stop complaining about their bad CHOICE (and that is what it is) and blaming the market solely for a fiscally irresponsible decision on their part. The point of the story about my mother was that she chose not to overextend herself on the purchase of a car just because it was possible. She is not in bad shape now that gas prices, heating oil, groceries, etc. are higher and money is tighter in this recession. Again, I have no problem with anyone buying a Murano (or anything eelse) if they can afford it. However, many who buy these things can't. If you have an SUV and can stand the fill ups put up and shut up. If you bought an SUV to be the biggest mofo on the road/ be a 'baller', then the joke is on you. I singled out the Hummer because the large majority of people in these vehicles due it to copy the celebrities that won't have an issues with spending a bit more on gas. The Suburban that it is based on is a much more useful vehicle for people who need to use an SUV. I singled out towing because this is what large SUVs do best. Pickups move large cargo better and minivans move people more easily. People don't only tow boats and personal watercraft. There are those who tow things that are needed rather than toys. Bottom line: If one needed an SUV or could actually afford one, then people would not be lining up in droves to trade them in at huge losses. This spiraling market trend is due to people who made bad fiscal decisions because they wanted a large car and are now paying for it. Those in the two caegories listed above are keeping their SUVs.

  • Landcrusher Landcrusher on Jul 29, 2008

    Sanman, Well, I agree with that. Sorry I missed your meaning.

  • DenverMike Anyone that would have this color would wear feathers to a minister’s funeral.
  • Art Vandelay Still looks better than modern Hyundai/KIA products
  • Dukeisduke The F&I office on steroids.
  • DenverMike Yeah there’s temporarily gains, but automakers will continue to seek additional revenue streams as the auto industry will be in decline from now on, with new players taking an increasingly piece of the pie, plus weak EV profits. Prices are considered stupid, even by the rich that easily find better ways to dump cash, even on $200K Batmobile replicas. There’s never been so many (Hot) alternatives to “new” vehicles and all the BS/greed that goes along with them, including, yes better than new!Did I mention the auto aftermarket has been growing exponentially?
  • JMII I guess at one point OnStar had value but given that everyone has a smart phone these days I can't think of anything it does that I would pay for. The car has a OLM and reading the manual gives me all the other maintenance information I need. I unplugged the unit in my C7 just so the blue and red lights would disappear from my rear view mirror... I found them very distracting. Since my C7 was used I never signed up nor paid for anything, I have no idea what the data they are collecting on me but driving to and from work plus the occasionally track day doesn't seem like a gold mine.